Animal Magnetism

Somewhere between the digital pet craze (remember Tamagotchis?) and Facebook mania, you knew it had to come to this. Yes, thanks to a few canine-loving graduates of the MIT Media Lab, social networking has gone to the dogs. After three years of development, this fall Noah Paessel, Phil Liang, and Jon Gips will launch the Snif Tag, a rectangular device that attaches to your dog’s collar and—in theory, at least—results in your heightened popularity at the park.

Here’s how it works: Each pup gets a profile on sniftag.com, and whenever two dogs wearing a tag walk near each other, a signal zips between the tags and is then beamed to the Snif Tag site. There, owners can see which dogs they strolled by on a given day and, if they so choose, "friend" a particular dog for full access to its profile, which offers information like breed, gender, age, and weight (thankfully, just for the dog) and Facebook-style status updates. Voilà—new friends, both canine and human.

Snif Tag CEO Paessel says the invention was inspired by the old premise that there’s no better wingman than a dog. "Before Zoe, I wouldn’t talk to anybody," the now-married Paessel says, referring to an Italian greyhound he lived with in his bachelor days in Somerville. "But with her, I talked to people all the time. Not just girls, but certainly that was helpful."

The benefits of the $300 tag, sold via the website, go beyond the social. Research revealed that office jockeys wanted a better way to keep tabs on their pets while at work, so the device includes sensors that detect what its wearer is doing (walking, running, resting). That data, too, is relayed to the Snif Tag website, where owners can check to see if their pooch is at home snoozing or out on a stroll—especially useful for those who hire dog walkers.

Next up, we hope: social networking for cats. Now, that’s when the claws will come out.